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An Infinite Ache
by Christopher Soden
EDGE Contributor
Sunday Jan 27, 2008

Debbie Cheng and Clayton Shane Farris in An Infinite Ache.
Debbie Cheng and Clayton Shane
Farris in An Infinite Ache.  
 
It is rare in a community like Dallas Ft. Worth with so much theatre happening in so many places to find fresh, original writing, directed with a light, confident touch that understands the pleasures of seeing rich, layered actor’s work that comes by its emotions with sophistication and éclat. To find a company that stages fluid, intelligent, intriguing stories that move us without needing to grab us by the throat or crank up the laff machine.

That theatre company is Rover Dramawerks of Plano, currently staging David Schulner’s An Infinite Ache, a romance that is so much more. Melancholy and blissful, amusing and wise, captivating and poignant, An Infinite Ache will linger in your memory long after your visit to the theatre.

Running straight through with no intermission, two characters, and a single set, I was surprised at the challenge David Schulner, director Lisa Devine and actors Debbie Cheng (as Hope) and Clayton Shane Farris (as Charles) had laid out for themselves. Could two actors sustain a play completely on their own? In some ways the premise reminded me of Jan de Hartog’s The Fourposter, a play that opened on Broadway in 1951, starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy as a married couple spanning 35 years of their lives. As with Infinite Ache, the central piece of the set is a bed with enough space to accomodate two; a metaphor for marriage and wedded life together. Schulner does a riff on Hartog’s premise, however, exploring the myriad possibilities that emerge from the choices we make.

Cheng is spirited and relaxed and intuitive. The tender, playful energy she brings to Hope just tingles down your spine, like suddenly seeing a comet or rain glistening in sunlight.
Hope and Charles are a couple whose first evening together is not exactly spectacular, to put it kindly. Hope is not having a great time and Charles is coming on strong. Hope gets queasy from the wine and asks to lie down. Charles tenderly covers her as she climbs into his bed. He does not exploit the situation. Sometime after this the two wind up together. Something very bracing about An Infinite Ache is that Schulner provides us with just enough information to extrapolate what happens in-between episodes. Not everything is spelled out or revealed, but the mystery engages us, we are participants in this exquisite experiment, the foolish risk that always comes with romantic love.

Infinite Ache is a glittering, excruciating mosaic of the genuine, vulnerable caring that culminates between Charles and Hope. Schulner uses the tentative structure of "What if " to explore the more elusive, gorgeous side of "love" or what the great philosopher Joni Mitchell once called "the strongest poison and medicine of all." Schulner tries to give us the marvelous side of romance without blowing smoke.

Debbie Cheng and Clayton Shane Farris (along with director Lisa Devine) have created a theatrical experience to be proud of. Cheng is spirited and relaxed and intuitive. The tender, playful energy she brings to Hope just tingles down your spine, like suddenly seeing a comet or rain glistening in sunlight. Farris has just the right balance. His yearning and canny humanity are so moving and endearing, he embodies the agitation we all feel when we’re certain we’re going to blow yet another chance at kismet or what they call in Yiddish, " besharit" i.e. "what is meant to be."

Director Lisa Devine has been meticulous in her realization of this play. "The best," as they say, "always make it look easy." The segues, the chemistry, the way that Hope and Charles move in relation to each other, like informal ballet, poised and radiant. The transitions, the devastating moments, the charming pauses and revelations have all been coordinated precisely and with acumen. Bring someone close to your heart, bring a couple of Kleenex and line up for An Infinite Ache. Treat yourself to some competent, inspired,
grown-up drama. This is what theatre is all about.